Opt-out schools 'uninsurable': Emergency cover provided by Government

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THREE SCHOOLS that have switched to grant-maintained status have been given emergency insurance cover by the Department for Education because they are in such a dangerous condition that no one else will cover them.

A spokeswoman for the department last night refused to name the schools. She said one of them was being rebuilt; another was waiting for an insurer's report; and another had been refused cover for subsidence only.

Sir Geoffrey Holland, the departmental Permanent Secretary, has told the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the physical state of some schools was very worrying.

In evidence published yesterday, James Couchman, Conservative MP for Gillingham, said he was concerned about the condition of schools getting grant-maintained status, and Michael Stern, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, said: 'Many schools that I know are unable to insure at the moment.'

Sir Geoffrey told the MPs: 'There is little doubt, if I may say so, that some of these grant- maintained schools had premises which were, and still are, actually in relatively poor condition.'

The senior official said there was no requirement on the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools to have a thorough structural survey carried out before they took over responsibility for the buildings.

Mr Couchman then asked whether it was satisfactory that a governing body should take over a school without knowing of any major structural faults.

'They become aware of that very quickly, because we do require them to seek insurance cover straightaway,' Sir Geoffrey said. 'In seeking insurance cover they will find if there is anything as serious as that.'

Of the 493 grant-maintained schools in operation last month, four had been refused insurance cover, and temporary cover had been provided by the department for more than four weeks. One of them had since been insured.

As for the position of governors in such circumstances, the department said in a special minute to the committee: 'Governors are very unlikely to suffer personal liability.'

Sir Geoffrey told the MPs: 'If they act in good faith and within the law they need have no fear.' Mr Couchman replied: 'That does depend upon whose judgement of the good faith it is.'